Tuesday 21 December 2010

Two Old Lisburn Legends Retold.


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These two ancient tales of the neighbourhood of Lisburn have frequently been narrated to the Editor, in rough outline, by old residents in the district. Finding unvarying similarity in the various accounts, sufficient to give good ground for belief in their authenticity, he considered they were worth preserving, and determined to throw them into narrative form and accord them a place in these "Extracts."

Mrs. Ward, who was born in Lisburn in the year 1820, widow of Dr. John Ward, Market Square, who died in 1901, corroborates both tales. In her early youth the Derriaghy incident was "common talk" in Lisburn, and the chief actors in it well known. In regard to the Lambeg story, she was personally acquainted with Essy Pelan and Mr. Pecksniff and all the circumstances surrounding that simple but sad drama.

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The Rector of Derriaghy's Dream.

In the early part of the nineteenth century the Rev. Philip Johnson was Rector of Derriaghy, and resided at Ballymacash.

One night in the late autumn of the year 1808, awaking out of his sleep, he told his wife: "I have had a bad dream. I thought I saw the church on fire." She, good soul, soon quieted him, and in a few minutes he was again asleep.

In a short time he started up anew, saying: "I have dreamt it again. I saw the church in flames; I saw the roof full in and the walls crumble down. There must be something wrong."

But his spouse took a more practical view, and reassured him with the remark that she thought he had eaten rather heartily at supper, and that he had better go to sleep again at once and not disturb her anymore.

But here was to be no peace that night. Almost immediately after he started up again and sprang out of bed. "That's the third time," he cried. "The church is in flames: I saw it distinctly. I must go at once." He flung on his clothes, rushed out and in a few minutes was galloping wildly across country in the direction of Derriaghy.

Reaching the village, he was startled to see in the dim light, standing in the centre of the road on the crest of the hill before approaching the church, a figure in white.

Dismounting and throwing his bridle over a convenient post, he approached the figure, and there and then the rev. gentleman received what was possibly to him the surprise of his life. But it was only the precursor of greater surprises in store for him that night.

The figure in white resolved itself into a young girl, apparelled in a kind of bridal array, and the moment the rector approached, she grasped him frantically and excitedly by the arm, sobbing out: "Oh! I am so glad you have come. I was so frightened. He is waiting for us down by the church. He said he had asked you to come to-night to marry us. Oh, yes," and she grasped the rector's arm more tightly. "We must be married to-night. He sent me up here to meet you. He has always been so good and kind to me, and I love him: but to-night he looked so strange, I am frightened. All will be well when we are married, won't it?"

"Yes, my dear," said the perplexed rector, "I hope so"; but to himself he murmured: "Am I still asleep and dreaming in my home at Ballymacash, or am I awake?" He was soon to find he was very much awake indeed.

"Now, my girl," said he, "tell me who is the man you are going to marry," and she tremblingly whispered in his car the name of a well-known citizen of Lisburn of that day.

The rector and the girl then proceeded down to the church, but there was no man there.

Wildly she looked round. "Oh! I have kept him waiting too long. What shall I do? What shall I do?"

"Wait here," said the rector kindly; "wait here and I will go round the church and try and find him."

The old church was much smaller than the present edifice, which was built in 1871, but it stood practically on the same site as the building that replaced it.

Stepping quickly on to the springy turf, he passed round the church to the rear, but saw no one.

As he stood in the ghostly silence he thought he heard a sound coming from the old enclosure of the Rosbothams, and looking in that direction he saw a faint and dim glimmer of light.

Moving silently in the direction of the light, fearing he knew not what, he received a dreadful shock.

Approaching the entrance to the enclosure containing the tombs, in those far-off days the surrounding wall was much higher than at present, and even then it was heavily draped with overhanging ivy, he saw a sight that froze the very marrow in his bones.

By the dim and ghostly light of a lantern resting on a tomb stone he saw, digging furiously and frantically in a shallow grave, the man the girl had named.

With desperate energy the man dug in the light and sandy soil, perspiration flowing from every pore.

For some minutes the rector stood in silence contemplating the awful scene. Then moving quietly across, and standing almost over the man working in the grave, he looked down upon him.

The intensity of his gaze at length drew to him the eyes of the man he looked upon.

For one long minute, in otter silence, they gazed into each other's eyes, and the rector shuddered at what he saw in that frozen stare.

He saw mirrored there terror, horror, murder.

Then the spell was broken; the man threw down his spade, sprang out of the grave, clambered over the wall, and without a word disappeared in the darkness.

As Mr. Johnson, lifted the lamp and spade to return to the waiting girl, in his heart was a song of thanksgiving, thanksgiving for his dream, thanksgiving that he had arrived in time to prevent a dreadful crime.

Going back to the girl he found her almost in a state of collapse. With difficulty he persuaded her to return, with him, to her home on the outskirts of the village.

Her father after being roused from his sleep, opened the door, and the rector gently pushed the girl into his arms, saying: "Be good and gentle to her, ask her no questions to-night, see her safely into her bed, and when you retire to your own room, go down on your knees and thank your Creator that she is safe under your roof this night. In the morning I will return and explain. Good night."

Within a very short time the man left Lisburn. Rumour said later he was living in New York. Again a report came, that was confirmed, that in the city of New York he had died a lonely and miserable death.

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The Broken Column in Lambeg Parish Churchyard.

About the year 1830 there lived in Lisburn a young couple much attached to each other.

In their case the course of true love ran smooth and unruffled.

Their devotion to each other was touching to see, and became the theme of the town.

She was pretty and loving and confiding.

He was masterful and ambitious.

In time the lure of distant lands laid hold upon him.

She only wanted his love and the quiet, simple life of old Lisburn.

He would travel, and in the new land of Canada make a home worthy of his love.

Thus ambition intervened.

The day soon came when, with protestations of undying love and affection, he parted from the clinging arms of the confiding girl to seek fame and fortune for her on a foreign shore.

The old tale: the mat went forth to conquer, the woman remained at home to weep and wait.

Lonely and heartsore, her only solace was his letters.

Frequent and regular they came, full of love and hope and buoyancy.

The light returned to her eyes, and the smile to her sweet lips.

Success was crowning his efforts.

The home was materialising.

The lovers would soon be reunited.

In brave and gallant words he told of his success.

He told of the new life opening, that they were soon to live together.

She must prepare herself, he said, to fill worthily the position she would occupy.

Masterful as ever, he pointed out how she should proceed.

Deportment, etiquette, and the fine arts must all be acquired.

To the loving girl his word was law, but her friends began to doubt.

Still, she had his letters, frequent and regular, and time would vindicate her trust. What then mattered, the covert smile, the wise head shake, the subtle inuendo?

Again the old tale: the woman waits and suffers.

Less frequent, came the letters.

Still less frequent and at longer intervals they came, then ceased.

The delicate flower drooped and faded.

The days passed into weeks, then into months. The crushed spirit bore up bravely, waiting, waiting, dying; the broken heart beat more feebly, then ceased for ever.

In Lambeg Parish Churchyard she was laid to rest.

To rest, yes, free from her longing, her love, her pain.

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Years passed, and then once more Lisburn saw the brave youth return who had gone forth to win fortune and honour for his love.

He had won fortune, but what of his honour?

In his success he had forgotten the gentle flower of Lisnagarvey, and allowed it to wither and die.

He had gone forth full of high hopes and aspirations. He returned to his native town full of pomposity, inflated with success.

Pecksniff he was aptly named in derision, on his return, and as Mr. Pecksniff let him pass.

His gold-headed cane was wonderful to see, his unctious self-satisfaction hard to tolerate.

His protestations of the love for the girl he had deserted were loud-mouthed and fulsome.

He visited her grave, and defiled the sod with crocodile tears.

He would erect a monument to her memory -- which her friends tried to prevent -- with suitable inscriptions expressing his loss, her love, their devotion.

The monument in Lambeg Churchyard was the result.

It is a square pedestal surmounted by a marble column about four feet high, broken off at the top to represent a young life cut off in its prime with its work unfinished.

On the four sides of the pedestal are inscriptions:--

Essy Pelan
died on the anniversary
of her birthday.
1st March, 1833.
Aged 21 years.
I weep the more, because
I weep in vain.
Thou wert my life,
The ocean to the river of
my thoughts
which terminated all.
Separated below but
united above.
For love is strong
as death.
Solomon's Song 8-6.
Thou wert faithful unto death.
Rev. 2-10.
Thy love was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
2 Sam. 1-26.

The monument was unveiled with fitting ceremony.

Pecksniff in the leading part, as broken-hearted and generous lover.

His task finished, he departed in a cloud of self-satisfied glory, and Lisburn knew him no more.

But Nemesis was, unknown to him, on his track.

Not long had he gone, when information reached the town that he was already a married man, that for years he bad been married to a wealthy woman of position in the land of his adoption.

And then a kind friend -- there are always such kind friends -- wrote a true and correct account of Mr. Pecksniff's love affairs in Lisburn, touching lightly on his devotion and his broken heart, and rounded it off with an authentic copy of the inscriptions from the monument, and sent it out to Mrs. Pecksniff

Let us draw a veil over the result.

Yet, raise but a tiny corner, and you may see a furious and exasperated woman, standing over a cowed and dejected Pecksniff, flourishing in his face the fatal record of his past.

The tradition is she found, in a short time, means to divorce him.

His prosperity, however, held good, and long years after he died in the odour of sanctity and success.

Exit Pecksniff. Exit Essy Pelan. They have long since passed away into the land of shadows.

Kind friends, throw not stones at him.

Who can say what remorse he may have suffered?

According to his lights, he may have earnestly tried to make what expiation for hi sin that he could.

Give him the benefit of the doubt.

Let them rest in peace.


appearing from time to time in the "Northern Whig."

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The Drumbeg Ghost.

Whether Drumbeg Churchyard stands as it used to stand two hundred years ago we know not, nor whether it still holds the gravestone of "Liftenant James Haddock who dweled in Mallon and deceased the 18 of December, 1657," but the "Liftenant" is still of interest as forming the core of one of the more notable of our ghost stories.

"About Michaelmas, 1662," one reads in ancient Glanvil, "one Francis Taverner porter to the Lord Chichester at Belfast, riding late in the night from Hillsborough homeward toward Drumbridge, his horse, though of good mettle, suddenly made a stand, and there seemed to pass by him two horsemen, though he could not hear the treading of their feet, which amazed him. Presently there appeared a third, in a white coat, just at his elbow, in the likeness of James Haddock, formerly an inhabitant in Malone, where he died nearly five years before. Whereupon Taverner askt him in the name of God who he was? He replied, I am James Haddock, and you may call to mind by this token; that about five years ago I and two other friends were at your father's house, and you by your father's appointment brought us some nuts, and therefore be not afraid, says the apparition."

To cut a long story short, the reason for Haddock's revisiting the glimpses of the moon was his desire for the welfare of his only child. He appealed again and again to the sluggish Taverner bidding him "go to Elenor Welsh (now the wife of one Davis living at Malone, but formerly the wife of the said James Haddock, by whom she had an only son, to whom the said James Haddock had by his will given a lease which he held of Lord Chichester, of which the son was deprived by Davis, and to tell her that it was the will of her former husband that their son should be righted in the lease." In the end Taverner carried his message, and was examined by Dr. Jeremy Taylor, Dr. D'Arcy's most eminent predecessor in the diocese of Down and Connor and Dromore, and by Lady Conway, and as a result the boy was righted.

According to one story, the shameless and hardened Davis refused to surrender the lease, and the apparition bade Taverner to take the matter to court, where it would appear when summoned. The case accordingly came on at Carrickfergus. For the boy there was but one witness. "James Haddock!" cried the usher. "James Haddock!!" "James Haddock!!" At the third summons a clap of thunder shook the courthouse, a hand hovered over the witness-box, and a voice called, "Is this enough?" And it was.

The other version, by Bishop Taylor's secretary, relates that "There is an odd story depending on this. The boy's friends put the trustees and executor on this apparition's account into our court s, where it was pleasant to hear my Lord talk to them on the whole matter. The uncle and trustee, one John Costlet, forswore the thing, railed on Taverner, and made strange imprecations, and wisht judgments ought fall on him if he know of any such lease; but the fear of the apparition's menaces by Taverner fear'd him into a promise of justice at least. About four or five years after, when my Lord died, and the noise of the apparition was over, Costlet again began to threaten the boy with law. But being drunk at Hill Hall by Lisburne, coming home, he fell from his horse and never spoke more." And thus was fulfilled the old proverb that curses come home to roost.

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The Portmore Ghost.

It is told on the authority of Bishop Jeremy Taylor's secretary that "David Hunter, neatherd at the Bishop's house at Portmore, there appealed to him one night, carrying a Log of Wood into the Dairie, an Old Woman, which amazed him, for he knew her not; but the fright made him throw away his Log of Wood and run into the house. The next night she appeared again to him, and he could not choose but follow her all night, and so almost every night for near three-quarters of a year. Whenever she came he must go with her through the Woods at a good round rate; and the poor fellow looked as if he was bewitcht and travelled off his legs. And when in bed with his Wife, if she appeared he must rise and go. And because his Wife could not hold him in his bed, she would go too, and walk after him till day though she see nothing. But his little Dog was so well acquainted with the Apparition that he would follow her as we as the Master. If a Tree stood in her walk, he observed her always to go through it. In all this while she spake not.

"But one day the said David, going over a Hedge into the High-way, she came just against him, and he cried out, 'Lord, bless me, would I was dead; shall I never be delivered from this misery?' At which, 'And the Lord bless me, too,' says she; 'it was very happy you spoke first, for till then I had no power to speak, though I have followed you so long. My name (says she) is Margaret -----. I lived here before the War, and had one Son by my Husband. When he died I married a Souldier, by whom I had several children, which that former Son maintained, else we must all have starved. He lives beyond the Bann-water; pray go to him and bid him dig under such a Harth, and there he shall find 28s. Let him pay what I owe in such a place, and the rest to the charge unpayed at my Funeral; and go to my son that lives here, which I had by my latter Husband, and tell him that he lives a wicked and dissolute life, and is very unnatural and ungrateful to his Brother that maintained him; and if he does not amend his life God Almighty will destroy him.'

"David Hunter told her he never knew her. 'No,' says she, 'I died seven years before you came into the country.' But for all that if he would do her message she would never hurt him. But he deferred doing as the Apparition bid him, and she appeared the night after as he lay in bed, and struck him on the shoulder very hard; at which he cried out, and askt her if she did not promise she would not hurt him. She said that was if he did her Message; if not, she would kill him. He told her he could not go now by reason the Waters were out. She said she was content he should stay till they were abated, but charged him afterwards not to fail her. So he did her errand, and afterwards she appeared and gave him thanks. 'For now,' said she, 'I shall be at rest, therefore pray you lift me up from the ground and I will trouble you no more.' So David Hunter lifted her up from the ground and as he said, she just felt like a bag of Feathers in his arms. So she vanisht, and he heard most delicate Musick as she went off over his head, and he never was more troubled.

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 22 December 1916 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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